One one side of the pitch Saturday stands the Dayton Dutch Lions, making the organization’s first United Soccer League Pro division playoff appearance.
On the other side is the Richmond Kickers, winners of the USL Pro regular-season title and victorious in both meetings this season with Dayton.
Pressure? Yeah, for Richmond.
The Dutch Lions take a nothing-to-lose attitude into Saturday’s 7 p.m. playoff game in Virginia. Facing the league’s best team in a playoff atmosphere is a building block, not a stumbling one, for Dayton.
“For Richmond it’s a must-win game,” Dutch Lions coach Patrick Bal said. “If they lose their season is ruined. If we lose, it’s still been a good season because we achieved what we have. For us there’s very little to no pressure.”
Richmond (15-1-10) is unbeaten at home with eight wins and six ties. Dayton (10-9-7) is 3-6-3 on the road, including a 5-2 loss at Richmond’s City Stadium on Aug. 10. The Kickers also won 3-2 in Beavercreek on July 6.
“So far Richmond has proven they’re the team to beat this season. The playoffs are different,” Bal said. “It’s not 26 games. It’s one game. An early goal can change the momentum of the game so anything is possible in the playoffs. That’s what we believe.”
Dayton clinched its playoff berth with a 3-1 win over Harrison City last Saturday. The Dutch Lions fell behind 1-0 in the first two minutes, then rallied with three goals in a 12-minute stretch in the second half. For Dayton, the win capped a season-ending stretch of must-win games of their own as they clinched the eighth and final playoff spot.
“The last couple of weeks there was a lot of tension on the team, a lot of pressure on the team before they stepped up to win it,” Bal said. “Playing for a playoff spot and the feeling of must-win games, that’s something most of the players had never been through. I do hope we keep a big core of the team (for 2013) so we can build on this.”
Forward Gibson Bardsley leads the Dutch Lions with 25 points, including a team-leading nine goals. Forwards Brandon Swartzendruber (17 points) and Tjeerd Westdijk (14) and midfielder Joel DeLass (13) are also offensive standouts.